Words – Interview with Ron Probst of IHR Studios

INTERVIEW WITH RON PROBST – IHR STUDIOS (October 31, 2015)

Robin: Happy Halloween! Today I am interviewing Ron Probst (who, by the way, Ron Probstis my brother, which makes this an extra-special interview). Ron, hi! I’m excited to be speaking with you about something you love so much.

Ron: Hi.

Robin: Ron is the owner/engineer/do-it-all guy for IHR Studios, his own recording studio. Tell me a little bit about how you started.

Ron: I am a self taught sound engineer. I interned for two years with a studio and a live sound company locally. In time, I started buying equipment for my own home studio. Up until the middle 1980’s the only way to learn audio engineering was on the job as an apprentice. Nowadays there are many four-year BS/BA Degrees in Audio Engineering.  Although many audio engineers do usually have a four-year undergraduate degree, I personally do not have one.

StudioRobin: Not having a degree hasn’t stopped you though. In many fields, especially artistic ones, it is not a degree that necessarily qualifies you, but an innate ability and a strong willingness to learn, hands-on.

Ron: That’s true. For example, in order to be an audio engineer, it is important to possess excellent hearing as well as first-rate ear training. A sound knowledge of music history is a must, and not necessarily something you would learn in school. Understanding style, structure, the changes over the years in both the manner of recording as well as the techniques is imperative. You must have the ability to work long hours and pay absolute attention to even the smallest details. It helps greatly to be a musician of sorts, preferably a musician that knows musical structure and notes. Not theory necessarily, but a grounded understanding of the basics.

Robin: You also need to be personable and a good communicator. As your sister, I may be biased, but I have noticed you possess both qualities. I think that is why musicians enjoy working with you so much. You relate to them and are able to get to the core of what they’re looking for out of your services and what is needed in order to produce the best sound based on the artist’s particular strengths.

Ron: Well, thanks. I have recorded a variety of music, and because of the wide-ranging styles I have had to adapt my approach. I have done both field recording and studio recording. Field recording is more challenging because of the lack of control of acoustics. Some projects become challenging because of talent level and some because of setting. Over the years, I’ve also had to become skilled at the ability to plan detailed events.

Robin: What is the most challenging project you have been involved in?

Ron:  That is difficult to answer. Each project has its own particular challenges. Old St. PaulHowever, I guess the most challenging from a recording standpoint was that of an Americana Group who performed in a two-hundred year old church that didn’t have electricity. We had to run our own in order to make the recording. The performance consisted not only of vocals, guitars, dobro, violin, an upright bass, and a one-hundred-year-old organ, but had a live audience of one hundred and fifteen people.

Robin: Wow. Daunting, but rewarding, I expect?

Ron: Very rewarding and I am truly grateful to have learned to work well under pressure.

Robin: Is there a particular project of which you are most proud?

Ron: Oh, I don’t think I can pick just one. I would say the projects I am most proud of are: Tony Lucca—Rendezvous With The Angels; Rebecca Grayson—Trouble The Water; Sally Jaye and Brian Wright—Old St. Paul’s Church; Ernie Halter—90’s Acoustic Throwback (Mastering); The Halstead Clan—both EP’s; Rick Cline—Must Be This Tall To Ride; and probably the various recordings I have done with a dear friend, Mike Harrington. Certain of these projects had many other involved parties who helped bring them to fruition, and I plan to tell more about these in detail during a future interview.

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Robin: Fabulous plan. For now, though, how best would you describe yourself professionally and what you do?

Ron: I am a freelance sound/mastering engineer who works with artists locally or abroad.

Robin: How do you go about doing that?

Ron: I work many times from files sent over the Internet. I also record musicians at my house and at area studios. Due to time-constraints, most recording activities these days take place on the weekends or planned vacations (large project or scheduling conflicts). I charge by the hour or by the song, but I have also done projects solely for the enrichment of the art or as charity.

Robin:  Walk me through a day of recording. I know it depends on the project, but give me a ‘for instance’.

Studio.5Ron: First, I would set up the computer for the type of project I am undertaking. I use Pro Tools HD recording software and have the ability to record 16 tracks simultaneously. Within the program are many different types of “plug-ins” that simulate expensive pieces of equipment. I use these to help create the sound of the recordings during mixing or mastering. I use analog pre amps because they sound much better than digital. The tones are warmer.

If recording a group, I will set up all the microphones and pre amps, running microphone cables, securing them and setting up mic stands with microphones for each particular instrument. In addition, I run lines and lay out headphones, tap test microphones and check that the signal is coming through the headphones. From there when the group arrives I would get all the instruments set up and sound checked. Get the headphone mixes blended for each musician’s taste (what they want to hear in their headphones-priorities). Then title the song – set up Studio.6tempo (click track) and blend that into headphones. Make sure everyone can hear the talkback (that’s me communicating with the artists in their headphones). And start recording! An average day of recording is ten to fourteen hours.

Robin: What about mastering?

studio.4Ron: If mastering, I only work inside the computer. Mastering is taking finished mixes and turning them up to commercial standards and contouring the sound of each song (matching for continuity in volume and texture). The average day for mastering is about eight hours.

Robin: If you had to do over, related to career or education, would you do anything different?

Ron: Everything I have done in life has brought me to here, and I am truly blessed. I suppose I might have pursued an education, for sure, even if it had been a Mass Communications Degree (at the time) or Audio Engineering (post 1983). I would have loved to work in film. I also love theater. Being part of a Broadway production team would be awesome!

Robin: Don’t count yourself out of that yet! It’s matter of putting yourself in the right place at the right time. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career path in audio engineering?

Ron: Learn as much about the field you are entering as you can and understand the earning potential. Be willing to live with the financial reward of that particular job, as the music industry has changed greatly with the advent of digital technology. Intellectual property has taken a huge financial hit. The movie and gaming industries are following closely on its heels. The double-edged sword of the Digital Age and the internet has yet to be sorted out. My advice would be to pick a facet of audio engineering that has a guaranteed income stream along with a fulfilling job environment. You might want to record music for the art of it or take a chance on something as drastic as reinventing the electro acoustic transducer. J

Robin: Sound advice from a sound engineer.

Ron: I want to finish up by saying I am very thankful for all of those who haveRon Probst2 helped me along the way, most particularly:

James Little, who I interned with for “live” sound and studio recording. We have become the best of friends and I will always be grateful for his mentoring.

Rick Cline, for volunteering to be my very first project. His jazz recording “Must Be This Tall To Ride” is still one of my most treasured recordings.

Marc McManeus, who helped me greatly with the live Americana Church project featuring Sally Jaye and Brian Wright at Old St Paul’s Church in Conover, North Carolina. Without Marc that project would have never been possible.

And of course I would like to thank my adorable wife Linda. Without her devotion, love and support, none of this would have ever been possible.

Robin: And don’t forget her chocolate chip cookies! They’ve opened the door to many an opportunity. Thanks, Ron, for letting me interview you!

To find out more about IHR Studios and Ron’s work, visit below:

https://www.reverbnation.com/ihrstudios

Words – Interview with Tony Lucca

Tony Lucca's latest release
Tony Lucca’s latest release: Tony Lucca

Robin: I have with me today singer/songwriter Tony Lucca.

Welcome, Tony. Thank you for agreeing to let me interview you.

Tony: Certainly, my pleasure!

Robin: You are my first interview for the “Words” segment of my blog, in which I hope to celebrate the singular power of words, from those who write them to those who organize words into a format for others to enjoy. It is my intent to interview authors, songwriters, editors, recording engineers, publishers, poets, visual artists (because, as it is said, a picture is worth a thousand words) and those who aspire to this type of creativity. Speaking of pictures, your most recent tour is called the Paint a Picture Tour. I’m sure most of your fans already know the reason for this, but this particular fan isn’t quite sure if the tour is named after the next to last song on your current release, or if there is more to it than that.

Tony: Well the song itself was actually, at one point, on the chopping block. Basically it’s a bit of a departure from the rest of the rather “rockin’” record. However, my kids really grew attached to the song, having been some of the first listeners of the initial demo. When I told them I didn’t think the song was going to make the record they were quite upset. My son, Liam, said “well then your record’s gonna suck!” I’d like to think he was kidding, but it turns out he was right. The song needed to be on the record. Fans seemed to fall in love with it right away and so to acknowledge my near-mistake, I decided to name the tour after the song.

Robin: Thanks for enlightening me! And thanks to Liam for speaking up. I’ve often been asked at what point the writing bug infected me, so let’s start this interview with that. When in the course of your life did you realize music was your gift and/or your goal?  Was your desire to be a musician obvious to you at a young age, or something you came to recognize later?

Tony: I think I made my first effort to write something as early as 7 or 8. But it wasn’t until I got up in front of a crowd to play some original songs that I realized this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Certainly after receiving my first pay check, it became even clearer. I think I was 12.

Robin: I love classical music and, as a writer, I will use the music—a different piece for each story I’m working on—to shoot me straight into the mindset I need to be to write. Do you have a certain routine you use to get into songwriting mode?

Tony: For me it’s more about creating the space, both physically and mentally. Oddly enough, spending a day at home alone, usually while knocking out a few loads of laundry, seems to be when inspiration is a little easier to come by. It becomes part of the pace of things. Pick up the guitar, get a strong melody in my head, brainstorm some ideas, switch out the colors for the whites, make a few drive-bys looking things up on the computer or pulling books off the shelf. It can get fairly intense but usually within a few hours I’ve got something that’s either going to hold up or something I’ll let go of and move on from.

Robin:  [Laughing] Okay, then. I kind of like that image of going through the laundry motions while creating. When I write, I find I perform research first for historical novels, and let the characters develop from the past, and conversely in contemporaries I develop the characters first and let the story grow around them. When you write songs, do you write the words or music first, or does it vary? Also, do you have a preference for the instrument used when putting lyrics into song?

Tony: It always varies. The best songs seem to come all at once. And although I’ve experimented with everything from a simple shaker, to the bass, to the piano, the guitar just seems to be the one I go to most frequently. It’s probably just a convenience thing.

Robin: I can understand that. Plus dragging the piano into the laundry room might be a little unwieldy. On Under the Influence, you give a nod to artists who have influenced you over the years with a cover of each of their songs, including Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, and my particular favorite from my high school years, Led Zeppelin. If you could pick only one, however, which artist or band would you say influenced you most? Would it be one of those from the cd, or someone else entirely?

Tony: Impossible. Sorry.

Robin: Don’t apologize. I don’t think I could choose just one author or event that set me on the path to writing, believe me. After the recent passing of your uncle you made a post on your Facebook page about his influence on you musically, and about the artistic talent of your family in general. Do you want to share a little bit more about that?

Tony: The older I get the more I realize what a blessing it is to be a part of such a wonderfully talented family. Sadly, the bigger the family, the more you have to be prepared, emotionally, when it comes time to say good-bye.

Robin: They live on in our hearts, which is always a comfort, and with you, in your music. How, exactly, would you brand your style of music? Can it be summed up as a particular style? Has it changed over the years?

Tony: It’s always been tough to try to classify myself. I gave up trying years ago. Though being a “guy with a guitar” who plays his own songs technically makes me a singer/songwriter, I feel there’s an inherent soul element to everything I’ve done as well. And with my latest record I was able to incorporate more of the classic rock sound I grew up on.

Robin: Writers are usually somewhat introverted, or at least used to working in a very solitary fashion. As a singer/songwriter, you are often engaged with the public. How important is this to you as a writer? As a performer?

Tony: Boundaries are extremely important, as is the ability to compartmentalize your time and attention. There are times when you need to be reachable, approachable and personable. There are other times when you need to keep it tight, focused and isolated. I feel that for an artist to arrive at something truly inspired, it’s inevitably going to require some degree of solitude and introspection.

Robin: Did you know you had been referred to as a “young Sting”?  How did that make you feel?

Tony: I’m a big Sting fan.

Robin: Me, too. So I guess you’re pleased by the reference. I must confess, I hadn’t seen that previously, even though it’s a reference from a while ago. I smiled when I saw it.  It is obvious to those of us who enjoy your music that each song is inspired by something in your life. Some are rocking and other songs are quite moving. My particular favorites of the latter type are “Bad Guy” (Shotgun) and “Nobody But You” (Rendezvous with the Angels), released at the time when you were a budding family (a quite lovely and engaging family, I might add). On the self-titled Tony Lucca, released early this year—which, to me, is a perfectly balanced compilation of energy and soul—you have a lovely tune called “Sparrow”, which we all know is written about your daughter. Do you feel your music echoes your contentment? Or do you continue to delve into past experiences—as a lot of writers do—for use in your songwriting?

Tony: I’m always amazed at the power of songs and their storytelling magic. And though it’s fun to revisit earlier experiences by playing older songs, it always a bit more fulfilling when you can connect to your most recent set of experiences through your more current material. I know with regards to the new record and current tour, I’m having a great time connecting to the material each night. People can tell when you’re taking pride in what you do and I’m real proud of these songs.

Robin: I had no plans to bring up your stint on The Voice, but I would like to mention your acoustic duet of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” with Adam Levine. You have commented to certain people that you enjoyed that experience immensely. If you could choose someone else, anyone else—whether current or from the past—with whom would you most like to perform a duet today?  Perhaps not just to perform a duet, but to co-write the song for that particular performance?

Tony: I would Love to work with David Crosby. I think he had a way of writing that was so mysterious; honest and cryptic at the same time. Not to mention all the ethereal harmonies he seems to come up with. I feel I could stand to learn a great deal working with him.

Robin: What are your professional plans for the future?

Tony: More writing, recording and touring I suppose. I’ve got a batch of songs that I wrote for some of my Kickstarter backers. The songs were very inspired and came out really nice. I’m really looking forward to getting in to record those. I’ve got ideas of doing a live recording of my 2006 release, Canyon Songs, possibly for the 10-year anniversary. We’ll see.

Robin:  Sounds wonderful!  A live recording of Canyon Songs would be perfect. I look forward to your next project. Thanks again, Tony, for your time!

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I hope you enjoyed this interview with Tony Lucca! To celebrate the release of my novel, Dark Tides, from Lyrical Press today, I will be giving away a gift digital download to three randomly selected readers who comment today.  Thanks for your interest.~Robin